Musings on Photography

Some Canon Powershot G9 Musings

Posted in equipment by Paul Butzi on November 5, 2007

G9-20071008-0224

On September 21, just 15 days before I was scheduled to leave for China, I bought a Canon Powershot G9. My plan was that the G9 would be the ONLY camera I took on a three week trip. Yes, this was foolhardy. In my defense, I was not going to China to photograph, I was going to China to see China. To a certain extent making photographs (and lugging around a huge pile of camera gear) interferes with actually experiencing a place (especially when you’re touring a large country like China).

I gave the G9 a pretty thorough workout during the 15 days before we left. In that 15 days I made some 150 exposures – not just test exposures but actual out in the field photographs, with the camera carried around in my pocket. This boosted my confidence in the camera as both reliable and suitable, and I had no reliability problems in China at all. The G9 is compact, not particularly heavy, and robust. It took several hard knocks in China (including being dropped onto the floor within two hours of arriving at our first stop, in Hong Kong) and worked (and still works) flawlessly.

Eventually, I’ll write up a more in depth review. What follows is a hopefully useful bullet list style brain dump of thoughts about the camera based on three weeks of touristy travel photography through China during which some 2000 exposures were made.

  • The G9 is small enough to fit into a pocket, if you have large pockets. Cargo pants pockets are ideal. I carried it around in a surprisingly comfortable but ugly fanny pack, along with several spare SDHC cards and a spare battery.
  • Despite its small size, the G9 is pretty easy to handle. I discarded the supplied shoulder strap in favor of a lightweight nylon wrist strap I took off my Canon Powershot A95. The shoulder strap is silly for such a small camera and makes it hard to put the camera in a pocket. My advice to people who purchase the G9 is to throw the supplied strap away and just use a wrist strap.
  • I got about 240 raw images onto a Lexar Professional 133x 4GB SDHC card, and I had four cards with me. That meant that I could make 960 exposures before needing to reuse cards. Four SDHC cards take up no space at all, even in the cases designed to pad them out into a size you can handle. Four cards was sufficient given that I downloaded all images every evening, making copies both on my laptop and on an external 250 GB disk.
  • Image noise is a bit of a problem with the G9. Exposures at ISO 1600 are better than no image at all but not really suitable for prime time. ISO 800 is better but still not quite there. These judgments are made AFTER running Noise Ninja with various settings over the images.
  • Close examination of the raw images shows them to be slightly soft. Light sharpening crisps everything up, and at that point the image quality (modulo noise as noted above) is extraordinarily good for such a small digital camera.
  • The metering/autoexposure of the camera is disappointing. Since the camera has no reflex mirror, NONE of the issues that prevent an auto-expose-to-the-right exposure mode with SLRs are present, and you’d expect that the camera would do great through the lens metering. I often had to dial in exposure compensation of +/- 2 stops to get the exposure I wanted.
  • The control layout uses a small control wheel (like the ones on the back of Canon SLRs) on the back of the camera. This is excellent, and after a couple days using the camera I was reliably switching the dial between controlling the aperture and exposure compensation without looking. The film speed selection is a dial on the top of the camera, making it both easy to check and easy to adjust on the fly.
  • The camera has a variety of ‘modes’ including aperture priority, shutter priority, manual, program, two custom settable settings, a movie mode (not used by me), something cryptically labelled ‘scn’ which I haven’t tried, and ‘auto’. Auto mode is useful for when you must hand the camera to someone else so they can take a photo. Sadly, when in Auto mode, the camera will not record raw images, only jpgs. This is profoundly stupid.
  • At the wide end, the zoom lens is not quite wide enough. At the long end, it’s pretty good.
  • Image stabilization rocks, especially for a small, lightweight camera that will be used in bad light. After initial experiments, I left image stabilization on all the time, and I have quite a few longish exposures (e.g. 1/10 second to 1/2 second) that are free from blur. IS is not a panacea but it sure helps a lot. And the IS in the G9 is, in my opinion, quite good.
  • Battery life is good (200-300 exposures that don’t use the built-in flash) and can be stretched substantially by setting the camera to turn the back display off quickly. I carried two batteries and charged them fully each evening, and had no problems. The batteries are NB-2LH, quite compact and light. The battery charger can handle both 120 and 220 volts but only charges one battery at a time, which is Just Plain Stupid. At least the charger is light and compact and doesn’t require a cord.
  • When in ‘make exposures as fast as it can’ mode (formerly known as ‘motor drive mode’) the camera can do about 2 frames/second. This was fine for the sort of photography I was doing.
  • If you prefocus, the shutter response is quite good. I had no trouble timing exposures and was not frustrated by shutter delay.
  • The camera has a clever feature – face recognition – which I expected would be useless but is excellent for getting the camera to focus on faces when your taking ‘We were here” photos. Occasionally this feature found faces in unexpected places like rock walls, posters, etc. It easily finds faces in low light (it had no trouble focusing on the faces of the Terracotta soldiers in Xi’an, for instance). That this feature was more than a gimmick was something of a surprise to me, but I found it to be pretty useful. The most useful time for this feature is when you hand the camera to someone to take a photo of you and your spouse.

5 Responses

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  2. Robert P. said, on November 5, 2007 at 6:52 pm

    Paul, welcome back!

    Thanks for taking the time to answer my email concerning the EF 24-105 L while you were on the road, I took your advise and purchased the lens.

    This image of the tree roots is gorgeous and complex and I look forward to seeing more of your work!

  3. Adam Maas said, on November 6, 2007 at 8:05 am

    scn mode is actually the repository for all the Canned Modes, with selection via amenu. Same restrictions as Auto mode (JPEG-only, ignores any Custom Functions). Canon still doesn’t really get the Auto modes, or Auto ISO for that matter.

    Note that Wide-angle and macro converters are available. The Canon ones are decent to excellent. The lens still isn’t wide enough IMHO (I’d gladly give up the extra range at the end for some real wide) and isn’t fast enough (the earlier G’s were f2 at the wide end).

  4. MCD said, on November 7, 2007 at 5:56 am

    What about the viewfinder misalignment issue?

  5. […] this post, MCD asks (about the G9): “What about the viewfinder misalignment […]


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